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The University of Southampton
Autonomous Systems

Autonomous Systems researchers unveil the drone that, in theory, could fly forever

Published: 11 August 2016
grass drone
A cost effective UAV solution for search and rescue and other surveillance applications


The drone is connected to a mobile ground station via a tether which delivers a constant drip feed of power. As long as it receives power, the drone could stay airborne indefinitely. This technology has both civil and military application in scenarios where operators need a continuous eye-in-the-sky. Dr Stephen Prior who leads the research team at Southampton describes it as a virtual mast. It would give a valuable resource to rescue missions at sea or on land where surveillance is crucial to inform teams on the ground or for surveillance of large complexes like nuclear power stations.

The drone can be fitted with thermal imaging cameras for search and rescue missions, and high-definition video cameras for aerial surveillance. The Southampton team have been working with colleagues from Cardinal Security on perfecting the technology.



autonomous systems
Find out more about our autonomous systems research


It's the only tethered UAV in the UK legally approved to operate at heights up to 400 feet. Similar military grade systems cost about £250,000 but this one costs £70,000. The system is portable and agile, easily loaded onto a trailer and driven to the required location where it can be launched within minutes. It is simple to get it back down into its box to drive to a new location and even possible to move to different locations while keeping the drone airborne. This flexibility allows it to be adaptable to the mission scenario as well as being affordable.

This system was recently previewed at the Farnborough air show and the makers are now preparing to commercialise the proof of concept system, with a plan to start low-volume production later this year.



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